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Knit On in the New Year, Healthfully

Dec 30, 2013

Are you finding that your hands are sore in odd places? I am. I have the weirdest pain in between my pointer and middle finger on my right hand. It's a dull ache that is exacerbated by knitting. It must be all of that Christmas knitting catching up with me.

    
Mind the hands.
It's all in the wrist.
I can't have my knitting interrupted, so I went searching for some relief. I found it in Interweave Knits, of course. In the Spring 2012 back issue, Rebecca A. Watson wrote an article about avoiding injuries just by doing some easy stretches. They're helping me already! Here are a few of the ways you can prevent or soothe injuries.

Stretches for Knitters

First, the bad news: knitting may not be a contact sport, but knitters are vulnerable to injuries that can be devastating to productivity and sanity in the short run and debilitating in the long run. But there's good news, too: most of these injuries are completely preventable with a few minutes of care every time you knit.

"Knitters are susceptible to any of the repetitive stress injuries, particularly carpal tunnel syndrome and ulnar neuritis," says Dr. Jeanette Y. Lomori, DC, a knitter of almost forty years. As a chiropractor, Dr. Lomori knows how to keep our bodies as loyal to our craft as our minds are. A repetitive injury can take days or weeks away from your knitting time, so think of the time spent on the following exercises as an investment in your crafting retirement account.

MIND THE HANDS. Show your fingers some love and maintain dexterity with this stretch. Starting with your dominant hand, bend each finger backward one at a time for about twenty seconds each. Be sure to keep your wrist straight. Then bend all your fingers back together for another twenty seconds. Repeat with the fingers on your other hand.

    
Where's your head?
May I bend your ear?
IT'S ALL IN THE WRIST. Your wrists do a lot of the heavy lifting during knitting. Keep them limber by bending your entire hand back at the wrist for twenty seconds, starting again with your dominant hand. Breathe mindfully while you're holding the stretches. Repeat with your other hand.

WHERE'S YOUR HEAD? A good trick to avoid strain in your neck is to look down with your eyes, not your head. If that's not easy for you, this stretch will help: bend your chin toward your chest and hold for twenty seconds.

MAY I BEND YOUR EAR? Move your right ear toward your right shoulder as if you're trying to touch it. Hold for twenty seconds. Repeat on the left side and hold for twenty seconds.

—Rebecca A. Watson, from Interweave Knits, Spring 2012

I really encourage you to do these stretches, and the others that Rebecca and chiropractor Dr. Jeanette Y. Lomori detail in the article. It's the last day of our Digital Days sale, so download the Spring 2012 issue of Interweave Knits now!

Since this is the time for making resolutions, how about you add these exercises to you list? It's so important to take care of yourself so you can knit on, and on, and on, and on, and on!

Happy new year!

P.S. Do you have any stretches that help you? Share them with us in the comments!


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Comments

bzzymom wrote
on Jan 8, 2014 8:29 AM

Hi All,

Thank you so much for suggesting the stretches. They are helping a lot.

I wonder if anyone has suggestions for someone like me who used mossly cotton to knit. I am allergic to most fabrics so cotton is my only safe choice. My arms get sore, but what I need are good patterns for cotoon sweaters. I love knitting sweaters more than anything else. Please throw any free patterns my way, and if you have any suggestions on knitting cotton garments, I'm also interested.

Thank you all in advance.

on Jan 6, 2014 7:03 AM

My physiotherapist who treats a lot of RSI says the key thing is to maintain blood flow though the shoulders. Shoulders are very complex and it's relatively easy, sitting in one position and using the arms and hands knitting or at a keyboard, for the blood flow to be restricted. That causes problems with the nerves serving the hands and arms, leading to typical RSI aches and pains. Therefore every 15 minutes you should do 20-30 raising your arms above your head and back. You will feel your shoulders warming up. I also find shrugging good - one shrug per stitch for a row/round! And wear something warm around your shoulders - getting chilly also restricts the blood flow.

Melvia wrote
on Jan 4, 2014 3:49 PM

Another excellent exercise shown by my PT, is to sit at a table, positioning elbow/arm at 90 deg. on table with fingers pointing straight up. Keeping fingers pointed, bend the thumb down while pushing slightly back and hold for 20 seconds. You should feel a stretch at the lower part of the thumb joint. PT says this strengthens the tiny muscle at the joint. Repeat on right. I do this while sitting and waiting for traffic lights to change! And yes, stand up and stretch body & fingers every 30-40 min. w/shoulder shrugs. Head to the gym daily. I only knit w/circulars, no long straight needles. Hope this helps. Melvia

katglad wrote
on Jan 4, 2014 2:46 PM

I developed a different injury: thumb tendonitis and trigger finger. First occurred on my right hand. Physical therapy (playing with PT stuff I called silly putty). Then is occurred in my left thumb, to the point where the thumb started triggering (catching when trying to bend it, then suddenly releasing). PT didn't help, but a shot of cortisone finally got me back to knitting. While each thumb was injured, I could not knit, crochet, or many other things that require a thumb. Took about a year to get back to easily knitting.

fredelleba wrote
on Jan 4, 2014 2:09 PM

Thanks for this. I'm doing the stretches. I don't hurt, but the tips of the fingers on my left hand are "dead" and I'm pretty sure it's from almost constant knitting.

DSkiles wrote
on Jan 4, 2014 12:58 PM

The article "Knit On and on and on ...." is on page 120 in Summer 2012 Interweave Knits.

KimW@2 wrote
on Jan 2, 2014 8:45 AM

Switching to a different project can also help; different needles (size as well as type) as well as a yarn of a different weight can alter hand/wrist/arm positions enough to move the strain to other parts of the limbs/body. Switching knitting styles temporarily can do this, too, and is a good way to learn a new technique!

deb227 wrote
on Jan 2, 2014 7:33 AM

Thanks for the arm stretch suggestions - my problem is more with my arms than my hands and these really help.  :)

Mimi wrote
on Jan 1, 2014 5:38 PM

I cannot find this article in either the spring or summer 2012. please clarify, as my right wrist and fingers are very painful. mimi

on Dec 31, 2013 4:17 PM

I don't believe in stretches!  I believe in moving well.  Knitters who don't move well when they knit negate all the good stretching is supposed to do.  Move well and continuously and the stretches won't be necessary.

I also take issue with "it's all in the wrists."  For my Combination knitting, it is not.  I turn my left hand to move the yarn about by rotating the forearm at the >elbow<, so I would say that it is VERY important to use descriptive words carefully!  I'm finding this article to be quite misleading and commend to everyone's reading the info at www.bodymap.org.

on Dec 31, 2013 5:55 AM

Place a pillow on your lap, and hold your knitting on the pillow.mThis will ease neck strain.

secerato wrote
on Dec 31, 2013 2:43 AM

I found that knitting on round needles all the time is really helpful to relieve hand/wrist stress.  The round needle allows the weight of projects to sit in your lap, instead of on one side or the other.

SusanB@12 wrote
on Dec 30, 2013 7:04 PM

It's usually good to do opposing stretches. Here's one to do along with the wrist stretch described above: Bend your arm at the elbow 90 degrees, then curl your fingers and thumb in toward your wrist. While keeping your fingers and thumb curled in, slowly straighten your arm. Hold for a few seconds. Stretch and rest BEFORE you get hurt. It's so hard to watch your knitting languish while you recover!

rungranny wrote
on Dec 30, 2013 5:27 PM

These stretches highlight an important issue with regard to knitting. The exercise are a great idea too. Even more important is your heart muscle. Do not sit knitting for too long. In fact, try to get up and move around as much as possible. If you plan on sitting for an hour, get up after 50 minutes and move. Sitting for too much of the day even if you run for an hour in the morning or hit the gym for a cardio class three times a week is not good for your overall heart health.

on Dec 30, 2013 4:42 PM

Definitely have a great stretch to share. It was recommended to me by my physio' many years ago when I had 'tennis elbow' and every now and then I use it to great effect when knitting!!

Sit at a dining table (or similar height table) and place right hand on table at edge as far as possible away from body without moving your body and so your arm is straight out. Turn your hand over anti clockwise so the palm is facing up to ceiling. Arm should remain straight. Now gently, slowly, push your right shoulder towards the table top while looking to the left. Feel the stretch. Hold it. Then repeat with left arm.

This gives the elbow and all the arm muscles great relief.

Jenny

Melvia wrote
on Dec 30, 2013 3:37 PM

I wasn't able to locate the article on hand stretches in the Spring 2012 issue. The link to download the issue goes to the Summer 2012 issue. Is it in the Spring (what page?) or Summer 2012?

In reference to AnneBobroff's question on left thumb joint pain: I suffer from the same thing. Diagnosed as arthritis in the joint. I wear a very comfortable soft brace made by Comfort cool that protects the entire thumb and wrist areas when I knit. It doesn't interfere with knitting or crocheting or affect gauge. My physical therapist highly recommends stretching the fingers and hand at least every 30 min or an hour. Hope this helps.

Thank you,

Melvia Wong

kketchum wrote
on Dec 30, 2013 3:04 PM

The most important thing for any of those stretches is to keep your elbow straight. The attachments for those muscles are above the elbow, so with the elbow bent, you are not stretching the muscle to its capacity and are therefore doing much less good for yourself.

I am a former massage therapist who specialized in sports injuries. Knitting may not be a "sport", but repetitive stress injuries are treated in a similar way.  These stretches are also good for those of us that snowboard to prevent wrist fractures when taking an inevitable fall.

AnneBobroff wrote
on Dec 30, 2013 3:00 PM

I got a kick out of this - it came at the perfect time because I've been having a pain in the lower section of my left thumb that's clearly related to all the knitting I've been doing.  I don't want to stop knitting so I've been trying to figure of what will help.  Bending my thumb in the opposite direction (inward toward my palm) to what it's in when I knit seems to help somewhat.  Does anyone have any thumb suggestions beyond this?  When I'm knitting, my left thumb is curved outward as I use it to regulate the stitches moving forward up the needle to be knit.

innknitting wrote
on Dec 30, 2013 1:00 PM

If you knit with your head hanging down and forward to see your knitting in your lap, you want to be sure to do a counter stretch, not one that repeats what you are already doing.

Place your fingers at the base of your neck, drop your head back slowly onto your fingers.  To come out of the stretch, use your fingers to lift your head back into an upright position.  Your head weighs more than you think so give your neck a helping "hand" as you come out of the stretch.

By stretching both backwards and forwards, you will prevent the discs in your spine from becoming squished on just one side.  This can lead to discs becoming displaced or bulging.  

on Dec 30, 2013 12:47 PM

My physical therapist directed me every 30 minutes to walk the length of my ranch style house and back.  It also makes time for "pit stops" for snacks, water, and phone calls on what I laughingly call my "walk about" phone.

While sitting I also practice abdominal strengthening exercises by flattening my tummy muscles toward the back of my chair while continuing to breathe deeply---and not missing a stitch.  I have lost 2 dress sizes and feel rejuvenated, walking more sprightly.

Pat Linehan wrote
on Dec 30, 2013 11:41 AM

Good lighting, a chair that supports your back, and last but not least, make sure not to sit for too long. Getting up and moving around is important for proper circulation.